How does the author use realism and romanticism to convey the loss of innocence in Chickamauga?

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a really good question regarding Ambrose Bierce’s story “Chickamauga.” Bierce does use both realism and romanticism to capture the depth in “Chickamauga.” Let us take a look at both concepts and how they are used in the story.

Realism, of course, deals in everyday life and especially concerns itself with the ordinary doings of the working classes. The little boy in the story is a character that lends itself nicely towards realism. He wanders off into the woods in a vast game of pretend with his toy sword. This is very possibly an aspect of play in his everyday life. Further, war is a grotesque reality as well. War is prominent in the story and, as the boy sleeps, the soldiers invade the plantation and kill the boy’s family. How did they do this? In reality, the boy cannot speak and cannot hear; therefore, his sleep in the woods was not disturbed by the battle inside his own home. When the boy comes upon his dead mother, the reality hits the reader hard. Her forehead is blown away and the brain is seeping out in full view of her son. The reality of war is revealed in this way.

On the other hand, Romanticism has many unique characteristics such as a focus on both nature and the supernatural. First, the child does wander into the woods where all of his imaginary (and real) action takes place. It should not be surprising that the woods are involved here because they are quite Romantic in nature. Nature is where all the surreal happenings occur in Romanticism. The irony is that the happenings turn out to be real and not surreal. Another interesting Romantic quality is that the boy falls asleep in the woods which makes it seem even more supernatural in regards to the events that happen later. Why do I say supernatural? Well, when the boy sees the soldiers, they are described in a supernatural fashion, stumbling along in a “ghostly mist.”

In conclusion, it should be mentioned that Bierce was often against realistic writing (in that he preferred the Romantic ideas). This fact makes “Chickamauga” incredibly ironic in that the cold reality of war is presented in such a Romantic fashion.